Home Hotel Loyalty What's The Best Hotel Loyalty/Rewards Strategy For Most People?

What’s The Best Hotel Loyalty/Rewards Strategy For Most People?

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There’s no doubt that some of the benefits that come with hotel loyalty programs can be very enticing. Free breakfasts, room upgrades, guaranteed late check-outs, bonus points, and easier access to suites are just some of the many benefits that hotel loyalty programs dangle to tempt us into directing our spending in their direction…but with which hotel loyalty program should most people be trying to earn status?

The answer is actually a remarkably simple one – none of them.

Those of us immersed in the miles and points world can sometimes forget that we see things in a very different way to most people, and what suits our needs doesn’t necessarily suit most people.

Most people aren’t miles and points junkies, most people don’t spend 30+ nights a year in hotels, most people don’t care about earning points to use in Bora Bora or the Maldives, and most people can’t be bothered (or don’t have the time) to work out all the nuances of the individual hotel loyalty programs – they have better things to do.

What most people want is a competitive hotel rate at the destination they want to visit and an opportunity to save some money even if they’re not spending half their lives in hotel rooms.

That’s not what the traditional hotel programs have been designed to offer.

Most people should not be trying to earn hotel status with one of the major chains…..and here’s why:

Assuming that most people don’t usually stay in hotels for more than 20 nights a year (that’s not an unreasonable assumption is it?) these are the best statuses they can expect to *earn*:

None of these status levels offers any true, meaningful, benefits that would make a person’s stay considerably better or that would save them cash – the best most can hope for is a late checkout and a few bonus points.

Also, just to achieve these low (and mostly useless) levels of status, infrequent travelers would have to direct most (or all) of their hotel nights to one specific chain, and that’s not a good strategy for someone who doesn’t travel all that much. Concentrating on just one hotel chain may limit someone’s destination options and it may prevent them from booking cheaper alternatives – neither of those is conducive to saving money and being able to travel wherever you feel like going.

The Credit Card Option

Someone determined to reach mid-tier hotel status could always turn to credit cards for some help. Their options include:

a) Get a credit card that boosts their elite nights total

b) Get a credit card that offers mid-tier status outright

My question here is this: If you don’t travel all that much why would you bother with a credit card that only helps you along the way to the next status level when there are credit cards out there that offer you outright mid-tier status?

Getting a card that gives you status outright is clearly the way to go and, to that end, these are the better options

Note: I realize that there are other cards that offer outright mid-tier hotel status (or higher) but they cost more than $95 and I’m not about to give an infrequent traveler the idea that they should be getting a premium credit card just so they have hotel status. 

Anyway…moving on…

There are two issues here – firstly IHG Rewards Club Platinum status is not very useful at all (I have it so I should know) and secondly, now that you have status you should really be using it (you did just pay for it after all). But should most people be looking to maximize a hotel elite status that a credit card gives them?


Most people should be concentrating on visiting places they actually want to visit and booking hotels within their budget through sites and portals that save them the most money. Worrying about elite benefits should not come into the equation.

If by chance, this all results in someone booking directly with a hotel chain and it happens to be a hotel chain at which a credit card gets them some benefits that’s great…but maximizing those benefits shouldn’t be the priority for most people.

So How Does An Infrequent Traveler Save Money?

Independence is a huge asset when you’re looking to book a vacation because if you’re not tied to a single loyalty program, you have the freedom to book accommodation based on price and based on the amenities the accommodation choices are offering.

If you’re not chasing status with a hotel loyalty program (or desperately trying to justify the status a credit card gave you) you’re not limited to big-name hotels and resorts but instead, you can make the most of boutique hotels, B&Bs, home rentals (like AirBnB) and you can book by whatever means works best for you – you don’t have to book through a hotel chain’s own website.

All of the above should save most people at least a little money, but there is one other thing everyone should be considering – Hotels.com Rewards

Hotels.com is one of the biggest online hotel room vendors in the world and it runs a very basic but very useful rewards program – for every 10 nights booked through Hotels.com the rewards program gives users a free night. That’s it.

The value of the free night is equal to the average cost of the 10 nights spent to get the free night.

There are no blackout dates and Hotels.com offers over 500,000 hotels, apartments, and villas so the site is unlikely not to be able to offer a good number of properties wherever you’d like to visit…but there are a few other things you need to know too:

  • The value of a free night does not include taxes and fees.
  • You can redeem your free night for a night of greater value and pay the difference.
  • You can redeem your free night for a night of lesser value and forfeit the difference.
  • You can redeem only 1 free night for each night of your booking.
  • You can redeem multiple free nights when you book a multiple-night stay. For example, if you’re booking a 7-night stay and have 5 free nights to redeem, you can use all of your free nights in the same booking and pay for only 2 nights, plus taxes and fees.
  • If you cancel a refundable booking before the hotel or vacation rental’s cancellation deadline, your free night will be returned to your account within 1 hour. If you cancel your booking after the cancellation deadline, you will forfeit your free night.
  • A fee of $5.00 will be applied to each reward night redeemed although that fee is waived if the nights are redeemed via the Hotels.com app or if you have the new Hotels.com credit card account.

For a traveler or family that doesn’t generally spend more than 20 nights a year away from home, Hotels.com Rewards can be a valuable money-saving option.

As an added boost, there is also a Hotels.com credit card which offers cardholders a “stamp” towards a free night (collect 10 stamps for a free night) for every $500 spent on the card.

The card doesn’t charge an annual fee, it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, it offers cardholders special benefits in the first year of card membership and it even gives cardholders complimentary cellphone coverage. For those who love the Hotels.com Rewards program, this may be a card worth considering (click for more details).

Link to more info about Hotels.com Rewards

Bottom Line

I think that we, the miles and points enthusiasts, can sometimes get a bit too caught up in our own world and forget that the bigger world around us is very different from ours. What works for us really doesn’t work well at all for most people and that’s where a program like Hotels.com Rewards comes in to play – it requires no real effort to participate, there are no nuances or tricks to learn and it doesn’t dictate where people can visit or dictate how much people have to spend.

If you take a close look at the legacy hotel rewards/loyalty programs it rapidly becomes apparent that there isn’t really that much value to be had from the low/mid-tier status levels…or at least not enough value that makes it worthwhile for an infrequent traveler to chase status.

I’m not suggesting that infrequent travelers should avoid booking directly with the big chains or that they shouldn’t bother with credit cards that offer hotel benefits (Hilton Gold status via the Surpass Card could be very useful)…and I’m also not suggesting that they should book exclusively through Hotels.com.

What I am suggesting is that most people should put the idea of hotel status to the back of their mind and concentrate on having great vacations at properties they’re excited to visit and that fall within their budgets – leave the status chasing to those who spend enough time in hotels to actually make the most of it.

A Fantastic No Annual Fee Card

The Freedom Flex Credit Card is a no annual fee card from Chase and although it was only released in September last year, it has quickly become a “must-have” credit card for fans of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. Fantastic earning rates, useful benefits, and no annual fee is always a winning combination.

Some Of The Great Earning Rates & Benefits:

  • 5% cash back (or 5 points/dollar) on:
    • Up to $12,000 of grocery store spending in the first 12 months of opening a new account
    • Up to $1,500 of spending in quarterly revolving categories
    • Travel purchased through Chase’s travel portal
    • Lyft rides through March 2022
  • 3% cash back (or 3 points/dollar) on:
    • Dining (includes take-out and delivery)
    • Spending at drugstores
  • 1% cash back (or 1 point/dollar) on spending in all other categories
  • Complimentary cell phone protection

Click for more details on the Chase Freedom Flex Credit Card

Regarding Comments

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser or any other advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility or any other advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Great post. I travel about 20-30 nights a year and find AMEX FHR offers what I’m looking for. Trying to be loyal to one hotel brand was limiting and downright depressing (when upgrades, lounges and breakfast were taken away by the Marriott-SPG merger). Overall, I am happy to experience the hotels that are on my bucket list. Just finished a stay at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul, and it was enchanting.

    • Ahh…now this is very interesting. I’d really like to take MJ (my young teenager) to Istanbul so any tips would be most welcome.

      You make a good point with regards FHR – if you can make the Platinum Card work for you, FHR benefits can be a good substitute for mid-tier (or higher) status.

  2. Hey Ziggy,

    Istanbul is such an amazing place. Not sure if you are going there for the food or history. If the latter, I hired an ottoman historian for a 3 day city walk. Made such a difference. Guide books don’t do the city justice.

    • I’m happy to do both food and history…but I love the idea of hiring an ottoman historian. Thanks for the tip, I’ll be looking into this.

  3. Nicely said. Sometimes it’s easy for points and miles junkies to forget that we’re not the normal ones, and that normal people see things differently.

  4. Agree completely (and I have either top level or second from top level in 6 different hotel programs). I would extend this also to airlines. I’m now retired but my travels over 35 years got me around 8 million FF miles and lifetime status with DL (Gold) and AA (Platinum) since I have around 3 million miles on each of them. Upgrades are tough but preboarding, seat selection, fee waivers and more flexible change policies make them worthwhile so I’m happy with the upper-mid level status I have. However, I don’t have to chase miles so I also fly Frontier (for cheap short flights I can handle it), Southwest or other airlines with better fares since I don’t have to chase miles.

    On the hotels I have lifetime Titanium Bonvoy, Hilton Diamond (via $40K spend on my Surpass card), IHG Platinum (credit card) and top or next to top level on Hyatt, Wyndham and Best Western via various status matches that seem to be recurring. Outside of the lifetime status w Bonvoy none of these involve staying a certain number of nights (and obviously that one doesn’t any more) and can all reasonably be achieved without ever spending a night in their hotels so I have total flexibility when I travel to pick whatever hotel I want (and maybe get a few perks if it is one I have status with).

    Final comment – the first level of hotel status (ones you posted above) have to be about the most worthless “achievement” in points/miles. I guess it makes people feel better to think they are “silver” even though that doesn’t get you anything.

  5. I guess I am more akin to @AC regarding non frequent fliers who take 2 trips a year. The premis of this artical is based on the traveler who does not belong in a loyalty program. If you are not doing the activity that produces revenue for a supplier over the long haul, you are not a “frequent flyer” (or frequest guest). Silver or equlivenent status is not status at all. It makes the occasional traveler feell like they “belong” and thus get a free newspaper or basic wi-fi.

    I got my Lifetime Platinum with SPG pre-merger which was really valuable: Breakfest, Suites, lounges, especially International, recognition, the works. Now I have my watered down post merger benefits as a Lifetime Titanium with Marriott…..not quite SPG but still makes for better travels most of the time. I have backed Marriott up with the Amex Aspire card which gives me a valuable array of valuable benefits plus Diamond status (as opposed to gold). That plus Intercontinental Ambassador is all I really need and yes, I have earned it. Airline wise, I am UA Lifetime 1K and AA million miler AA. Add an occasional big front seat on Spirit to save money (their FF programme is not worth a second look) and I am covered. I’ve done over 7MM miles and keep over 2MM on account at any given time.

    I love travel, business or leisure and would be a passion with or without the perks but having the perks is much better.

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